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I know I should incorporate more strength training into my exercise routine. Is it better to do it before or after my cardio activity? -Stacey
You’re right, it is important to include strength training into your regular exercise routine. It will aid in balancing the strength and mobility in your muscles and joints, improve metabolism by increasing active lean muscle tissue and even help improve your cardiovascular performance. That being said, here are three answers to your question.
When you perform strength exercises, the goal is to break down the muscle tissue by repeating the exercise until you’ve reached momentary muscular failure. That sounds scary, but all it really means is that your muscles get activated and then fatigued by the repetitive resistance of the exercise. That breaking down of the muscles is what encourages growth and development through rest.
Performing the strength exercises before the cardio activity will allow you to perform the strengthening exercises on fresh muscles as you won’t be tired from the cardio activity. This is especially important if you’re new to strength training and learning how to perform each exercise. However, it’s important to make sure your muscles are warmed up ahead of time, so you could include a short 5 minute cardio warm up, then strength train and follow with the rest of your cardio routine.
On the other hand, if your cardio is primary – say, if you’re training for a triathlon or running event and you need to get in a solid workout – then getting in the cardio workout first and then following up with the strength training will be a better option.
Finally, to toss in another option, you can weave it into your cardio and create what I call a “circus workout” – where you warm up on cardio, then hit a strength exercise or two, then 5 minute of cardio, then strength again, followed by cardio. You’ll feel the excitement of being in the circus with all the movement! Plus, it’s fun and before you know it, you’ll be cooling down thinking… when can I do this again?
There are benefits to weaving in strength training into your cardio routine, the key is to try each of these to see what works best for you.
Did you know, according to diabetes experts, muscles are responsible for about 90 percent of the body’s use of glucose as fuel? Exercise also affects various hormones which have a direct impact on blood sugar levels. It’s not surprising then, that non-diabetic hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar) is common in frequent exercisers and athletes.
If you’ve ever worked out on an empty stomach, you’ve probably experienced the dizziness, muscle weakness and exhaustion of a blood-sugar crash. Understanding how your blood-sugar levels are controlled, and what you can do to prevent these crashes, can help you avoid these symptoms.
1. Understand What Hypoglycemia Is And How Blood Sugar Works
The sugar called glucose, which is stored in the muscles and liver, is the primary fuel your muscles use during strenuous activities. As part of a careful balancing act, two hormones are released to try to maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood, where it can be used readily.
Insulin is released into the blood by the pancreas when blood sugar levels are too high, where it bonds with specialized receptors on the cells. Insulin stimulates the cells at these receptors and tells them to absorb glucose. Once these cells respond to insulin, blood sugar levels drop. When blood sugar is too low, however, the pancreas releases glucagon instead. This hormone tells the liver to releases some of its stored glucose into the blood so that can be used as fuel.
Exercise puts much higher demands on your muscles, forcing them to utilize more fuel — in much the same way as making your car go faster, or pull a heavy load, will increase how much gas it burns. Overtraining can even cause a permanent shift in this balance by increasing insulin sensitivity, which will make it much more difficult for you to maintain a healthy blood sugar balance.
2. Stay Balanced To Stave Off Hypoglycemia
Research suggests that endurance training, as opposed to strength training, can be beneficial in preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia. While strength training uses carbohydrates like glucose for fuel, endurance training uses fat as the primary source of energy. This will prevent blood sugar levels from getting too low.
The most effective method for preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia though is by adjusting the timing and composition of your meals. Focus on complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes, which will give you several types of sugar and dissolve more slowly in your system. Try to have a large, carbohydrate-heavy meal at least three hours before your workout so that you have plenty of stored glucose when you start your exercise.
Throughout the day, eat six small meals and snacks rather than the traditional three large daily meals. These meals and snacks should also be made mostly of complex carbohydrates and proteins. Avoid simple sugars like sodas and baked goods, since these will cause a spike in insulin — a response to the quick release of sugar — which will, in turn, cause your blood sugar to crash.
Drinks like coffee that contain large amounts of caffeine can also cause a crash when the stimulant effects of the drink wear off. The symptoms of this “caffeine crash” can be very similar to hypoglycemia.
Most importantly, consult your doctor. Hypoglycemia can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as diabetes, and it’s always a good idea to check-in before altering or starting any new diet or exercise program.
3. Stop Avoiding Exercise — And Start Enjoying It Regularly Again
Once you learn to manage your blood sugar, you’ll have the confidence to embark on that cardio program and set your sights on larger goals. Being consistent is key and getting your blood sugar under control will go a long way for keeping your motivation high. Sometimes the best way to guarantee you get your cardio in is with a home treadmill, elliptical or exercise bike. But how do you spot a good one? With the range of machines on the market, it’s good to know what to look for. Ask yourself these questions before you shop.
Walk into almost any gym or specialty fitness retailer and you will be confronted with row after row of treadmills and ellipticals. Although these machines are both classified as “cardiovascular equipment,” both have individual qualities that will suit some exercisers better than others. There’s a lot to consider when you’re faced with an “elliptical vs treadmill” scenario. Luckily, we’re here to help break it down and show you the best each machine has to offer.
For starters, before purchasing a piece of equipment this fundamental to a balanced exercise program, it’s important to consider which would be best for your fitness level, workout style and budget. Let’s walk through the benefits of both ellipticals and treadmills:
Elliptical Machine Benefits
The elliptical machine features two pedals that move in a smooth, uninterrupted circular motion that allows for an impact-free workout. This can be invaluable for individuals with injuries or weaknesses in their knees, ankles, hips and lower back.
Additionally, two long handles extend upward from the base of the machine and place resistance on your upper body. This full-body workout means that you have the potential to burn significantly more calories per hour with an elliptical than if you were to use a treadmill or exercise bike.
There are some potential drawbacks to ellipticals. Because the structure of the elliptical machine controls and limits your range of motion, the movement may take some getting used to. The stride length is also built into the machine, although some allow for slight adjustments, and exercisers with shorter strides may find themselves hyper-extending their knees, which can be problematic over time.
Another factor to consider is that you set the pace on an elliptical (unlike a treadmill, which provides a motorized speed). This can sometimes make it challenging to maintain a constant speed, and if you aren’t highly self-motivated, it can be tempting to go easy.
Video: Look for ellipticals that have simple assembly, one-step folding, a compact footprint like the Evolve 3 Elliptical.
Selecting an Elliptical
As with any piece of exercise equipment, it’s important to compare elliptical machines until you find one that perfectly fits your needs. Look for a durable machine that will be able to fully support the weight of all its users and has a heavy enough flywheel to offer a smooth, quiet workout. Quality ellipticals are designed to mimic your natural body posture and movement.
Benefits of Treadmills
Apart from the benefits associated with all forms of cardiovascular exercise, the key benefit of treadmills is accessibility. The running or walking motion required to use a treadmill is natural, comfortable and familiar.
Many home treadmills also fold up for easy storage. While running outside can be made difficult by terrain or weather, treadmills offer an even surface and the climate control of your home or gym.
Another advantage is that treadmills can have a built-in motivation factor. The belt speed and the incline will adjust automatically when you follow a program, reducing any tendencies to relax during a workout. Although you can stop or slow the machine at any time, the automated pace prevents you from easing up unintentionally.
The treadmill running surface is cushioned to reduce the stress on your joints from repeated impact, but this is still a concern for exercisers with a history of joint problems. Also, some people find treadmills repetitive, making them less likely to exercise as often as they should.
Video: For comfortable runs, look for a cushioned, maintenance-free belt like that on the Elite T7 Treadmill.
Finding the Perfect Treadmill
When shopping for a treadmill, look for a machine with a solid frame and a wide running belt. These features will allow you to use the machine comfortably without modifying your natural stride. The highest rated treadmills have larger motors that allow the belt to rotate smoothly and quietly.
Integrated support for media players is an additional feature that may help to alleviate some of the boredom experienced when running indoors. Features that allow you to track your progress through multiple workouts will also make your routine more enjoyable.
Elliptical vs Treadmill: Which is Best for You?
If you already enjoy running outdoors but find that your cardio routine suffers because of the weather, a treadmill might be your best choice. People who suffer from joint pain, however, would likely benefit from using an elliptical. Also, if you have difficulty incorporating an upper body workout into your schedule, you may find that the elliptical helps you save time by including these muscles in your cardio.
Regardless of which machine you chose, you’ll want to select a quality model that will last you a long time and help you reach your fitness goals.
Strength and cardiovascular training methods are often at odds. Many people train in strictly one or other, believing that the neglected training style will somehow hinder their progress. Gym myths and misunderstandings just add to the confusion, promoting ideas like “running burns muscle.” Other exercisers simply don’t know how to incorporate both strength and cardiovascular training into their schedule and favor the one they enjoy the most. Should these two training styles be used together? If so, how? Let’s dig in.
Myths and Misunderstandings About Mixing Strength And Cardio
Usually, people practice cardio because they want to lose weight and lift weights because they want to gain muscle. However, two persistent— and incorrect — ideas have pervaded gyms around the world, deepening the divide between strength training and cardio workouts.
Some people who hope to slim down avoid lifting weights, because they are afraid it will make them too bulky. The truth is that muscle growth is a very slow process, and it requires a well designed program of diet and exercise to be followed for years before you appear “bulky.” On the contrary, proper weight training will increase the strength and endurance of your muscles, which will improve your cardiovascular efficiency and burn more calories and fat in the process.
On the other hand, weightlifters who are looking for bulk tend to fear that cardio burns muscle. This one is more of an oversimplification than an outright myth. It is true that in extreme cases of over-training your body will begin to use muscle for fuel. However, your body will only go catabolic when you exercise at a high intensity for more than 45 minutes, exercise every day, or exercise on an empty stomach. Put simply, cardio will only burn muscle when you give it no other choice. Balance in your training and in your diet will prevent muscle loss.
A healthy combination of strength and cardio training will allow your body to perform at its best, letting the two systems complement each other rather than compete.
How to Mix Strength And Cardio The Right Way
Understanding that cardio and strength training don’t cancel each other out is only half the battle: now you have to balance the two properly. Mixing cardio and strength training requires a highly individualized approach based on your goals, body type and chosen sport.
First, you should decide whether your focus is to lose weight or gain muscle. Trying to do both at the same time will most likely slow your progress and frustrate you, and may even lead to over-training injuries. Again, this does not mean that you are choosing one training method over the other; the key is to make them work together.
If your primary goal is to gain muscle, then you should lift three times per week, with two moderate-intensity cardio sessions of about 20 to 30 minutes each on your off days. Lifting and running on the same day not only takes more time, it increases your risk of overworking your muscles, which is exactly what you want to avoid.
Next, you need to consider your body type. Is it easy for you to lose weight or does it feel like a constant struggle? Are you naturally muscular? Your body’s natural tendencies will have a strong bearing on your workout plan. For example, an endomorph — someone who is natural heavy-set — will need to schedule more cardio days to lose weight, but will likely find it easy to gain muscle with plenty of stored fuel in the body.
Lastly, we need to consider your sport. An endurance athlete (such as a marathon runner) will need a completely different skill-set than a football player. While both of these examples lean towards either cardio or strength, these athletes can still benefit from both modes of training.
As is the case with many aspects of fitness, balance is the key to mixing both cardio and strength training into your routine. While these two modes of exercise are frequently considered incompatible, when scheduled properly, they will work together to help you reach your fitness goals.
Have any tips on mixing strength and cardio training? Please share them in the comments!
Getting fit is hard, choosing the right equipment shouldn’t be. Whether you’re starting a fitness program for rehabilitation, to improve your health or to compete in local races, a treadmill is a great piece of cardio exercise equipment. But how do you spot a good one? With the range of treadmills on the market, it’s good to know what to look for. Read more.
A 5K race (3.1 miles) is a great distance for beginning racers, as well as for more experienced runners looking to warm-up for the season. To give yourself every pre-race advantage, it’s important to consider what you put into your body.
As you’ve heard countless times before, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. What you eat before your race, and when you eat it, could have a big impact on your energy level and overall performance. Here are a few common practices used by endurance athletes and how they could affect your race–for better or worse.
Nutrition Myths To Avoid
Traditional endurance wisdom encourages carbohydrate loading or “carbo-loading,” by eating large amounts of carbohydrates the day before and the day of your race. The logic behind this is that carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel, especially during exercise, when they account for 40 to 50 percent of energy production.
The problem with this theory becomes clear when you understand that the fuel used during exercise is stored in your muscles and liver. If you think of these stored carbohydrates as fuel in a car, then your muscles and liver can be compared to the gas tank. Like a car’s gas tank, there is a limit to how much fuel can be stored. Numerous studies have shown that not only does the carbo-loading myth offer no benefit to runners – it could actually slow you down.
Another common practice is to eat simple carbohydrates, like honey or sugar, shortly before the race for a quick boost of energy. This, however, can lead to dehydration: your cells need excess water to absorb the sugar. The sugar spike will also lead to an insulin reaction, which will cause your blood sugar to drop sharply later on, leaving you tired and sluggish.
Planning a Proper Breakfast
Experts at the Colorado State University Extension recommend eating a light meal three to four hours before your race so your body has ample time to properly break down the necessary nutrients. This will also give your stomach time to settle. The meal should feature starches from complex carbohydrates, which break down more quickly and easily than proteins and fats. Avoid foods that are high in fat and simple sugars. Good examples of appropriate foods are whole wheat or multigrain bread, cold cereal, pasta, fruits and vegetables. Unlike the carbo-loading approach, these should be eaten in moderation, with the entire meal totaling only around 500 calories.
Small amounts of caffeine may help improve your athletic performance, according to several studies. Be careful, however, since coffee is a diuretic and can increase the risk of stomach cramps and dehydration during the race.
It’s also important to select foods that you enjoy, and that you know your digestive system tolerates well, because your mood and comfort will affect your performance. Don’t use the morning of the race as an opportunity to try something new for breakfast since it could backfire and cause discomfort or digestive troubles. Try a variety of foods throughout your training plan to find what works for you.
In addition to your meal, you should drink at least 64 ounces of water leading up to the event, but stop drinking at least 30 minutes before the race begins. Having excess water in your system will make you feel bloated, slow you down and possibly give you stomach cramps.
Because a 5K is a relatively short race, it’s not necessary to follow a particular diet in the days leading up to the event. Maintaining a generally healthy, balanced diet and eating an appropriate light breakfast will give you the nutrient stores you need to perform your best on race day.
Interval training is one of the most effective ways to get fitter and burn more calories. The concept is simple and works for any piece of home fitness equipment. Constantly varying the intensity and anticipating your next recovery or push makes these workouts fly by. Increasing post workout demands for recovery, burns calories even after your training session ends. If you’d like to break out from preprogrammed settings and create your own customized workout, here are a few basic ways to include intervals in your workout routine.
Hills/Resistance: Whether you’re running or walking on your treadmill or elliptical, you can increase the incline to up the intensity without increasing the impact on your joints. Increasing resistance also works well for indoor cycles, mimicking the challenges of outdoor terrain. Increase your incline for one to two minutes, followed by recovery periods of approximately two minutes. This simple workout will get your heart pounding and improve your core strength while also training your quads and glutes to meet the demands of your summer activities.
Speed: Using your home fitness equipment for steady cardio sessions results in training your slow twitch (i.e. endurance) potential. Adding speed to train your fast twitch muscle fibers has a lot of benefits, including power for short periods of demanding exercise (like moving furniture or a round of summer softball) and increased calorie burn to maintain these metabolically hungry muscle fibers. You can build in brief periods of sprinting on your treadmill, elliptical or indoor bike to give you some of the benefits of a speed workout, without the wear and tear on your joints.
Heart Rate: With Polar Heart Rate monitors integrated into consoles of treadmills, ellipticals and exercise bikes, this is a remarkably easy way to gauge the intensity of your workouts. Design your own intervals on the fly by using speed and resistance to increase your effort, bringing your heart rate to at least 85% of your maximum. Alternate these pushes with recovery periods, returning your heart rate to below 70% of your maximum. Using heart rate rather than time ensures that your body is fully recovering during the easier periods of your workout and that you are pushing sufficiently during the hard periods, making your workouts more effective and keeping you strong to the finish.
Just one session per week will let you gain the benefits of interval training. As you adapt, shoot for two to four sessions per week. It’s easy to over train, so keep a recovery day between interval sessions to avoid injury and exhaustion. Enjoy your next workout and the benefits of interval workouts in your training plan!
Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.
I’m a relatively new runner (I only run about 10 miles per week). How often should I be changing out my running shoes? -Jared
Welcome to the wonderful world of running! Ten miles per week is a great running regimen and at that rate, the average running shoe will last about 40-50 weeks or close to a year. The general rule of thumb is to replace your running shoes every 350-500 miles but that can vary based on the following variables:
Style. Lighter weight shoes can break down more quickly.
Weight. A lighter runner may get more miles out of the shoes than a heavier runner.
Form. Someone who runs with a heavy foot strike will wear through shoes more readily than someone who lands lightly.
Variety. If you wear the shoes for other activities like kicking around, other sports, walking and site seeing, this will add on to the mileage.
The good news is you can develop a relationship with your shoes and along the way learn what works for you and your shoes. Here’s how:
Mark the date you purchased the shoes on the side of the shoe sole with a permanent marker to remind you of birth date and replacement date. You can also include this information if you use a paper or online log and keep track of the mileage on the shoes. There’s even an app called the Running Shoe Tracker – Shoedometer that tracks the mileage of your shoes.
Save your shoes for runs only and they’ll last longer.
Check the sides of the soles for wrinkling as this is often a sign that the shoes are breaking down.
Wash your shoes by removing the insole, wash with a mild soap (dishwashing detergent) and sponge or brush, stuff with newspaper or paper towel to dry. Avoid putting your shoes in a washing machine or dryer as it will destroy the shoe’s materials.
If your shoes get wet on the run, simply stuff them with newspaper or paper towel to dry.
Avoid leaving your shoes in extreme elements like a car in the middle of summer or the dead of winter. Shoes can melt and freeze and it will break them down or even melt!
Overall, if your mileage starts adding up, you can purchase a second pair and alternate them run by run. You’ll get more time out of each pair and it will extend the overall running time.
After running shoes and an MP3 player, a heart rate monitor is usually the first piece of equipment runners add to their workouts. If you aren’t using one now, you’ve most likely at least played with them in the past, calculating whether you’re working too hard or not hard enough, estimating your total calories burned, and even tracking your mileage or sharing your workouts. Using a heart rate monitor can give you a lot of insight into the quality of your workouts, fitness level, and effective training. So what are the best ways to really get the most out of this popular gadget? Let’s break down the benefits:
Step 1: Get your real max heart rate. While the calculation of 220 minus your age has long been the standard for estimating your max heart rate, there are newer, more accurate methods for fitter individuals. One favored formula is 205 – (.5 x your age) or you can also find your maximum heart rate by completing a workout that is directed at reaching it (such as finishing your 5k at an all-out sprint). This Runners’ World article has another option involving hill repeats with a maximum effort sprint and recording the highest number shown on your heart rate monitor. These workouts assume that you’re in reasonably good shape and that you’re well-rested, since recent training, a lack of sleep, and even dehydration can all affect your heart rate. The biggest take-home is to recognize that your maximum heart rate is very individual and isn’t going to be in complete agreement with any formula. If you see a number on your heart rate monitor that’s higher than you thought your maximum heart rate was, that number is your new maximum heart rate. Use it for planning your training.
Step 2: Calculate your training zones. Once you’ve established your actual maximum heart rate, you can use it to calculate your zones for training based on the amount of effort that you’re shooting for in a given workout. At a minimum you should calculate your easy zone, at 65% of your max (not above 70% of your max), and your work zone, at about 85% of your max. Knowing these numbers allows you to design your workouts intelligently depending on your training goals on a given day. You should include easy days that are directed at increasing your endurance and providing active recovery, during which your heart rate stays below 70% of your maximum. While this may leave you working at a significantly lower effort than you’re used to, perhaps even walking, you will find that your fitness improves in time as you’re able to work more efficiently on your hard training days. You can make your recovery days even easier on your body by using your Vision Fitness equipment for the lower impact workout it provides. For a simple overview of alternating between the two training zones, check out this blog.
Step 3: Alternate your training zones throughout your week. If you’re choosing cardiovascular workouts every day, make sure you’re building in active recovery days that keep your heart rate below 70% of your maximum at least twice a week, more frequently if you feel that your age or the demands of your training make that a necessity. Alternate recovery workouts with higher intensity days of at least 80% of your max effort. This level of effort will feel like a tempo run or similar to your 10K pace and will provide a higher calorie burn and challenge to your fitness. To really improve speed and power, work in very high intensity days that challenge your anaerobic threshold, with peaks of 90-95% of your maximum heart rate, alternated with recovery periods. These efforts also increase your metabolic demands, resulting in a higher post workout calorie burn. Since this type of training is tough, it’s important to alternate with recovery or rest days so that you can fully benefit from your hard training days, keeping the quality of your workouts high.
Heart rate monitor training is a great way to keep your efforts consistent between your treadmill sessions and time training on the road. You can also make the most of your monitor by integrating it with the workouts offered on your Vision treadmill, elliptical, or indoor cycle. For more on Heart Rate Monitor training, John Parker’s Heart Rate Monitor Training for the Compleat Idiot gets consistently good reviews and includes programs that will both challenge you and improve your recovery. Polar’s website is also full of tips directed at helping you get the most from your hear rate monitor.
Let’s face it, sometimes running can be a drag. Whether it’s because we run the same old route or distance, or we’re just lacking the love, trying the following five fun-boosting strategies can lift the spirit of your workouts and inspire you to once again run happy.
1. Mix up the terrain. Get out of your running route rut and run your normal route backwards. You’ll be amazed just how different everything looks and how much joy a fresh route will bring. You can also spice up both your indoor and outdoor workouts by adding hills to your flat route or find a trail to make the most of a shade-filled run through nature.
2. Shake things up. It’s easy to get into the habit of running the same 30-40 minute workout during the week. Although it’s a great way to maintain fitness, once your body adapts to it, you burn fewer calories because it becomes easier. That’s the good and not-so-good news. A simple way around it is to vary the intensity of your runs during the week to include a variety of workouts. It will freshen your running recipe so you look forward to the next workout. Here are a few examples:
Interval Workout: Run hard for 30 seconds to 60 seconds followed by 2 minutes of walking or easy jog – eight times. This is an effective metabolic booster and a great way to burn calories and fat for hours post workout.
Tempo Workout: Warm up and cool down running easy for 5-10 minutes, then run at a comfortably challenging effort for 15 minutes. This is a workout that requires focus, but feels fantastic and raises your threshold allowing you to run faster at an easier effort level down the road.
Recovery Run: Exactly like it sounds – an easy run that allows you to keep the momentum flowing but gives you a break from the higher intensities.
Endurance Workout: Typically run on your off work days, run for 60 or more minutes at a conversational effort level to develop your fat burning enzymes and aerobic endurance.
3. Make it social. There isn’t one run that I’ve done with a buddy or group that didn’t make me smile or make the time go by quickly. Research has shown that people who exercise socially (with people) can go longer and harder than when alone. Plus, you can solve the world’s problems, discuss the TV series you binge watched the night before, or the plot twist in your favorite book. Invite your friend to hop on the treadmill next to you, join a running club or training group and keep your running fun alive. You just may improve your performance along the way.
4. Run musically. Create a special running mix for your next workout and you just may run faster than you think you can. That’s because research suggests exercising to music can boost your ability to run harder and longer. Create a musical workout to boost motivation by starting and finishing with two songs that have a slower rhythm to warm up and cool down. Then alternate a fast paced song with a slower song 4-6 times and match your speed to the tempo of the music to get in a musical interval workout. The time will fly, you’ll love this workout, and will count the days until you can run it again (promise!)
5. Register for a race. The old adage of dangling a carrot on a stick can be enough to brighten any runner’s gloom. Whether a 5K or a half marathon, once you commit, every workout has a purpose and inspires you to prepare for the challenge ahead. If you’ve been racing, try something new to spice up your routine; a triathlon, trail race or obstacle course. When you challenge yourself, you will rise to it and make the most of every workout.
Every runner goes through highs and lows over time. The highs lead to improved performance and impressive accomplishments, while the lows (if you listen) can guide you to making the changes needed to continue to evolve.